Every child deserves a peaceful and secure childhood and the chance to go to school. This is still being denied to around 152 million children around the world who are engaged in child labour. Half of these are suffering the worst forms of child labour. 2021 was the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour and it’s time to re-double collective efforts and consign child labour to history
While progress has been made to reduce the incidence of child labour since the turn of the century, it has been far too slow. Now with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the level of child labour is increasing for the first time after over 20 years.
We are seeing a rise in poverty as a result of COVID-19 in many countries; reduced incomes and school closure would lead to an increase in child labour. Households living in poverty resort to send children to work to cope with food and basic needs. Studies have shown that a one per cent rise in poverty can lead to at least a 0.7 per cent increase in child labour.
COVID-19 has also put a lot of pressure on education, as temporary school closures affected more than 1 billion children in over 130 countries. While classes have resumed in some countries, many of the poorest families in developing countries are finding it unaffordable to send their children back to school, children engage in child labour to help in their families work or for a small salary.
Many children may be forced into exploitative and hazardous jobs in particular in agriculture. The situation facing girls is especially worrying, as they are more vulnerable to exploitation in domestic work.
Ending child labour by 2025
The Sustainable Development Goals specifically targets the ending child labour in all its forms by 2025 (SDG target 8.7). However, as we have seen, this is increasingly looking less likely. The solutions are known, it is the commitment and resources that need reinvigorating.
For the European Commission, President Ursula von der Leyen has reaffirmed this engagement through a zero-tolerance policy on child labour. Quality education and skills, expanded social protection systems and legal frameworks for human and labour rights, can all be decisive in turning the tide. Moreover, targeted support to the private sector can create decent jobs for youth and women, and reduce the need to rely on child labour.
Most child labourers work to produce material to be used in many manufactured items that are exported worldwide. The EU as a main global trade partner has a crucial role to play towards the elimination of child labour in global supply chains.
The risk of child labour is at its greatest when family members work in the informal economy, have a low and uncertain income and no access to health insurance, unemployment benefits or other forms of social protection. This is why the EU supports countries in strengthening and expanding their social protection schemes, especially in response to COVID-19. The EU is also helping children go back to school and get a chance of a better future. Ensuring the continuity of education is even more important in times of crisis.
In marking last year’s World Day against Child Labour on 12 June, the Commissioner for International Partnerships Jutta Urpilainen said, “Eradicating child labour is a top priority for the EU, and working proactively to prevent it is all the more urgent right now. As we battle the virus and recover from the socio-economic crisis, children are the first to suffer from poverty and inequality. We must do all we can to protect them and provide them with the best tools for their future.”
The EU funded CLEAR Cotton project is assisting vulnerable cotton farmers and the reintegration of child labourers’ back into school. During the COVID-19 school closures, the project monitored the situation of children to ensure they do not fall (back) into child labour and drop out of school completely, which is always a risk.
2021 will be a pivotal year and our actions will determine whether we meet the target of ending child labour by 2025. It’s time for all stakeholders – governments, private sector, civil society and international partners – to redouble the collective efforts to ensure no child is robbed of their childhood!
Join the first event of the International Year on 21 January 2021 and use 2021 to “Act, Inspire and Scale Up’ to end child labour.
- International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour website
- The EU-funded project CLEAR Cotton and story: Clearing cotton from child labour
- Outcomes of the conference of 12 June 2019 “United to end child labour in agriculture”
- In 2017, the European Union participated in the IV Global Conference on the Sustained Eradication of Child Labour. In support of the commitments made in the conference declaration, the EU announced these pledges to fight child labour.”